2014 Hero: Long Winter
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2014 Hero: Long Winter

Nominated for: creating performance art for all ages and incomes.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

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All respect to Nuit Blanche, but the city-wide arts crawl event has for the last couple years teetered on the brink of being too big for its own good. Parkdale’s Lab Cab Festival, held over two days on Queen Street between Dufferin and Roncesvalles, was a more manageable and relaxed experience for us; unfortunately, that festival has been held for the last time. But going strong, and nimbler by being limited to one building at a time, is the Long Winter series, which this year has been Toronto’s most savvy arts crawl outfit.

Organizations such as the Art Gallery of Ontario and Bloor Hot Docs Cinema have worked with the collective’s organizers to program building-wide take overs, installing indie artists and bands that attendees can take in while wandering from room to room. And Long Winter’s monthly (in the cold months) pay-what-you-can main series at the Great Hall has been a key factor in the 125-year-old venue getting a new lease on life (and increased capacity).

Started by members of Toronto’s favourite hardcore punk band Fucked Up, who were themselves inspired by the melding of performance art and music at the Summerworks Festival‘s Music Series, the organizing committee now numbers seven: Mick Brambilla, Alison Creba, Johan Falco, Mike Halliechuk, Vish Khanna, Colin Medley, and Josh Zucker. For Long Winter’s 2013–14 season, they brought diverse communities—music, comedy, dance, literary, gaming, comics, and much more—under the Great Hall’s roof.

Let’s start with the bands. Not only have veteran Toronto bands such as The Hidden Cameras been guests in the main hall, but the series has become a stopping point for many of Toronto’s best new bands. Weaves, which was named a “band to watch” by Rolling Stone in the spring (and impressed us at the North by Northeast and Summerworks festivals) appeared at Long Winter; so did Alvvays, which was included on Rolling Stone‘s and Pitchfork‘s best of 2014 lists, and Absolutely Free, which debuted its new album (also Pitchfork praised) using holograms on the Bloor Cinema’s stage.

Many musicians were also featured in Khanna’s basement conversation series Long Night, through which the CBC and Exclaim! alumnus, backed by “house” band the Bicycles, has established the closest thing to a late-night talk show in Toronto (or Canada, for that matter). Olivia Chow came within an inch of announcing her candidacy for mayor when she was there chatting about her book (she did so officially a few days later); Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels was also a guest. And when Khanna missed the December edition (busy becoming a father, again), Vag Halen’s Vanessa Dunn stepped in, hosting three guests who were women of colour—Bonjay’s Alanna Stuart, dancer Aria Evans, and Lido Pimienta—in what was a welcome first for any late-night show we’ve seen.

And that’s not all: attendees will also find artworks, indie games (which are showcased in Bento Miso’s Long Winter Arcade), films, local food vendors, and much, much more. It’s especially gratifying to see younger visitors show up in large numbers. Fucked Up’s members have always made an effort to enable all-ages events for youth, who are often shut out of cultural experiences in the city. For giving the young (and the young at heart) cultural adventures to experience in those months when many would otherwise stay home and connect only with a screen, we laud Long Winter’s organizers and acts as heroes.

CORRECTION: December 23, 2014, 3:00 PM This post originally stated that the Sadies performed in the main hall; the band was scheduled to play, but later cancelled.